The Singapore Approach To Scrutiny Of Arbitral Awards

In the words of Professor Jan Paulsson, "the great paradox of arbitration is that it seeks the cooperation of the very public authorities from which it wants to free itself."1 The courts, not the arbitrators, have to give effect to the arbitral award. Hence, one of the major issues in the law of arbitration continues to be the tension between the courts and the arbitral process: while judicial support is vital to the arbitral process, excessive intervention may diminish the party autonomy and efficient resolution of disputes through arbitration.

The Singapore courts recognise that a harmonious relationship between courts and arbitration is crucial for the parties to resolve their disputes efficiently, fairly, and according to their chosen method of dispute resolution. Most commentaries dealing with Singapore cases highlight the pro-arbitration stance of the Singapore courts. No doubt, the Singapore courts have adopted an "unequivocal judicial policy of facilitating and promoting arbitration"2 which is based on the principle of minimum curial intervention. The courts have consistently held that parties have a "very limited right to recourse to courts" against arbitral awards on the basis of statutory grounds available under Article 34 of the Model Law and Section 24 of International Arbitration Act (Cap 143A).3

At the same time, the statutory grounds for setting aside the arbitral award aim to ensure that the courts protect the legitimacy, fairness, and integrity of the arbitral process. While Singapore courts give due deference to the arbitral process, they are cognisant of their role, albeit limited, to preserve the legitimacy and integrity of the arbitral process. In this regard, the Singapore courts appear to adopt a more critical view of the arbitral awards, particularly in cases where grounds for setting aside or refusing the enforcement of the arbitral awards are apparent on the face of the arbitral awards.

In a number of recent cases, the Singapore courts have exercised their discretion to set aside arbitral awards where the arbitral tribunal acted in breach of the rules of natural justice. In L W Infrastructure v Lim Chin San [2012] SGCA 57, the plaintiff applied to the court to set aside an additional award for the granting of pre-award interest on the ground that the arbitrator breached the rules of natural justice. The Court of Appeal found that the arbitral tribunal rendered the award without affording the plaintiff an...

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